Sunday, March 26

4G vs. LTE: we explain the main differences | Digital Trends Spanish

For a long time, it seems that the most recurring topic of conversation in the field of technology is the 5G network; probably by now you already know its benefits and risks (imaginary and real). But how familiar are you with other phone technologies? Be aware of the differences between 4G vs. LTE and all its variants will be useful for you to know what is the right time to change your cell phone (or operator). Is your device not compatible with 5G technology? Before you go out and spend on a new phone, you should know this information.

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The most basic explanation: “G” is “Generation”. 4G is therefore the fourth generation of a mobile data technology, as defined by the radio communications sector of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU-R).

LTE is an acronym of the English that means “long-term evolution” (Long Term Evolution) and applies more generally to the idea of ​​improving wireless broadband speeds to meet growing demand.

What is 3G?

When 3G networks began to roll out, they replaced the 2G system, a network protocol that only allowed the most basic of what we would now call smartphone functionality.

Most 2G networks handled phone calls, basic text messages, and small amounts of data through a protocol called MMS. With the introduction of 3G connectivity, larger data formats became much more accessible, including standard HTML pages, videos, and music.

But, speeds were still pretty slow, mostly requiring specially formatted pages and data for these still-slow wireless connections. By 2G standards, the new protocol was fast, but it still wasn’t quite on the same level as a home broadband connection.

What is 4G?

The ITU-R established standards for 4G connectivity in March 2008, requiring all services described as 4G to adhere to a set of speed and connection standards.

For mobile use, including cell phones and tablets, connection speeds should max out at least 100 MBps, and for more stationary uses, such as hot-spots, at least 1 GBps per second.

When these standards were announced, these speeds were unknown in the practical world, because they were meant to be a goal for technology developers, a point in the future that marked a significant leap over current technology.

Over time, the systems that power these networks have caught up, not only because new transmission methods have found their way into products, but because previously established 3G networks have been upgraded to the point that they can be classified as 4G. .

What is LTE?

LTE stands for Long-Term Evolution, and it’s not so much a technology in itself, but rather the path followed to achieve 4G speeds. For a long time, when your cell phone showed the “4G” symbol in the upper right corner, it really wasn’t.

When the ITU-R set the minimum speeds for 4G, they were relatively unattainable, despite the amount of money technology manufacturers put into achieving them.

As a consequence, the regulator decided that LTE, the name given to the technology used in the pursuit of those standards, could be labeled 4G if it provided a substantial improvement over 3G technology.

What is 4G LTE?

Immediately, carriers began advertising their connections as 4G LTE, a marketing technique that allowed them to claim next-generation connectivity without first having to hit the actual figure required (sort of like claiming that NASA had landed on the Moon because it got close to the moon). enough and the spaceship that took him there was much better than the previous ship).

It’s not entirely misleading though, despite inconsistent speeds depending on location and network and the difference between 3G and 4G being immediately noticeable.

To make things more confusing, you’ll also likely come across LTE-A at some point. This acronym stands for Long Term Advanced Evolution, and it takes us one step closer to 4G.

It offers faster speeds and greater stability than regular LTE, is backwards compatible, and works by aggregating channels, so instead of connecting to the strongest signal in your neighborhood, it can download data from multiple sources at the same time.

LTE standardization has now advanced to where specification changes are limited to corrections and bug fixes.


So, the obvious question is, can you notice a real difference between 4G and LTE networks? Is the speed of loading a page or downloading an app on your handheld much faster if it has LTE technology built in?

Probably not, unless you live in the right area. While the difference between slower 3G networks and newer 4G or LTE networks is certainly quite noticeable, many 4G and “true 4G” networks have upload and download speeds that are nearly identical. The launch of LTE-A has made a difference for some, but your performance may vary.

LTE-A was the fastest connection available for wireless networks for a while, but 5G networks are becoming more popular in more locations. Not only that, but the newest cell phones on the market now have 5G. So 4G is becoming less and less relevant.

Necessary resources

The hand of a person with a cell phone in hand

4G connectivity requires two components: a network that supports the necessary speeds, and a device that can connect to that network and download information at a high enough speed.

Just because a phone has 4G LTE connectivity doesn’t mean you can get the speeds you want, just like buying a super sports car doesn’t mean you can break freeway speed limits.

Before carriers could really offer LTE speeds in important areas, they were already selling phones that had the capabilities they’d need to achieve the desired speeds, and then they started rolling out the service on a limited scale. Now that LTE service is quite widespread, this is no longer a problem.

Packet switching and circuit switching

A person measuring the download speed of their internet access with a cell phone to compare 4G vs.  LTE.

No matter what the data is or how fast it is transferred, it needs to be packaged and sent so that other points on the network can interpret it. Older networks use circuit-switched technology, a term that refers to the method of communication.

In a circuit-switched system, a connection is made directly to the target through the network, and the entire connection, whether it be a phone call or a file transfer, is made through that connection.

Advantages of a circuit-switched network include faster connection time and less chance of connection dropouts. Newer networks take advantage of packet switching technology, a modern protocol that can capitalize on a much larger number of connected points around the world.

In a packet-switched network, your information is broken up into small chunks that are then sent to their destination via whatever path is currently the most efficient.

If a node drops out of its connection in circuit-switched networks, you’ll have to reconnect, but in a packet-switched network, the next packet will simply find a different route.

Much of the technology used to create 4G speeds has nothing to do with voice communication. Because voice networks still use circuit-switched technology, it became necessary to reconcile the difference between old and new network structures.

Voice networks implemented a few different methods to address the issue, with most carriers choosing to implement one of two options that preserved their control over minutes used.

Carriers do this by allowing the cell phone to fall back to circuit-switched standards when used to make or receive a call, or by using packet-switched communication for data and circuit-switched voice at the same time.

The third option is to simply run voice audio as data over the newer LTE networks, a method most companies avoided for a while, probably because it takes away the power of easily charging voice minutes.

Voice over LTE (VoLTE) is basically what happens when you make a video call or connect with someone else using high resolution audio as well as faster connection speeds.

Both VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling are becoming more popular now and will probably only continue to expand and integrate into our daily lives.

When will 5G dominate?

Cellular antenna next to some buildings.
Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

After years of anticipation, 5G is finally becoming the norm, available in new flagship phones like the iPhone 13 and Pixel 6. Many manufacturers have introduced 5G-capable phones, and major carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T are continuously developing and improving its 5G networks.

Still, the gap between 5G and LTE right now isn’t as big as it seems. As with other protocols, 4G and 5G will co-exist for a while.

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